Monday, September 2, 2013

Northern Mongolia: Paradise Found!

Fall has arrived in Mongolia. It was just a little over a week ago that I realized that along with the rain- the wind had become an ever-present element as well. I was enjoying our cool walks and truth be told- I was celebrating a reason to treat myself to a Mongolian cashmere scarf (which I love). But, my enthusiasm for the season waned after our flight from Ulaanbaatar (UB) to Northern Mongolia was delayed 5 times due to high winds and fog. The travel gods eventually took pity on us- and we departed for Moron a day and a half later.

I believe that even with these delays- we were better off flying than taking the 18 hour bus ride to Moron. Actually, 18 hours is optimistic according to the travel-weary passengers we met who said it took closer to 24 hours after getting stuck in the mud multiple times.  Incase you're thinking to yourself- mud? Why is there that much mud on the road? That is because there aren't paved roads in Mongolia.  Ok, there are a few blocks of paved roads in UB around the city center and a beautiful stretch from Moron to Hatgal- which was our destination. Other than that- the roads look like this---

So, even though we were delayed several times- our flight still only took 1.5 hours to arrive in Moron.  This town is the market center for the north- with the market operating every day but Monday.  So, there's a market shuttle for surrounding towns that runs for anyone going or returning to Moron.  Because our flight landed several hours after the market ended, we had missed that option and a private car would have cost much more.  So, we stayed in the busting town (ok, not really) of Moron for the night in a ger at Bata's Guesthouse (10,000 T/ ~$7 a night).

The next afternoon- we hopped in the northbound shuttle and were taken to Hatgal at the southern base of Lake Hovsgol.

With our delays- we now only had two full days to explore the area.  While this wasn't nearly enough time in this beautiful area- we were so thankful to be there.  We stayed at Garage 24, an eco-friendly, renovated communist-era storage structure.  The hostel stands between two other garages which gives a real understanding of how much work went into the renovation.

It was a little bit more expensive than Bata's- at around $10 a night but there was your choice of gers or beds- all with a wood stove.  The living room was cozy and warm with couches, chairs, dining tables and a partially functioning piano.  I would be neglecting the best part if I didn't mention the amazing food.  We had to be patient and plan ahead for the long cooking time (Nate's shepards pie took three hours) but the wait was worth it!  The bottom right photo is of the vegetable buuz which I ate every single night :)

We spent our two days hiking around the area, including up the hill behind the hostel which had beautiful views of the lake, also known as the "Blue Pearl" and a very interesting looking ovoo (stone cairn).

We had heard about the Sukhbaatar boat- so went to see if it was still running tours this late in the season.  

We had a such good luck- it had closed down the week before but a Mongolian folk band was filming a video that day so they let us on!

So not only did we get a tour of the lake but we also got the chance to mingle with Mongolia's famous :)   

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